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GSSC Seminar Series
12 Sepember 2023


Protests, neoliberalism and right-wing populism in the Smart Cities of India

Dr. Rakib Akhtar (University of Birmingham, UK)


Why do farmers facing imminent dispossession still support and acquiesce to a right-wing nationalist project? Why and how does a neoliberal capitalist state make welfare provisions to subalterns? This talk attempts to answer these questions by explaining the weak protest of local farmers in an under-construction smart city in India. Underlining the key role played by the state, it would show how right-wing leaders launch redistributive neoliberal policies to help address some of the losses of soon-to-be dispossessed farmers. It looks at the role of authoritarian populist leaders in urban projects and how such projects become vehicles for their electoral and image-crafting practices. The extensive ethnography shows how they exploit existing caste and class dynamics by politically accommodating protesting farmers into important positions in the ruling party.


Dr. Rakib Akhtar is an interdisciplinary scholar with a research focus on technology-oriented urbanisation, infrastructure development and their interconnection with right-wing nationalism. His research interests sit at the intersection of Urban Geography, Political Economy and Development Studies. Currently, he is a Lecturer in Urban Planning at the University of Birmingham teaching across both campuses of the university in Birmingham and in Dubai. Prior to Birmingham, Rakib has been a Research Fellow in Healthy Cities and Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University where he inquired about the role of Health in the Smart Cities of India. Rakib was also a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University examining the relationship between processes of Peri-urbanisation and Climate Change in India. Rakib is a chartered architect and town planner with extensive experience in India and the Middle-East and the UK.

Rakib’s DPhil at the University of Oxford analysed the politics of the delivery of smart city projects in India. It looked at how actors of neoliberalism and right-wing Hindu religious nationalism (or Hindutva), come together in helping each other take root through the delivery of an urbanisation project. The research was the outcome of extensive fieldwork in the affected villages as well in the Special Purpose Vehicle designed to deliver the project. This is in the process of being published as a monograph by the Cambridge University Press. Rakib co-edited an upcoming book titled “COVID-19 in South Asia: Impact on Society, Economics and Politics” to be published by Routledge.